The Promise & Peril of Globalization: How Local Churches Should Respond to Globalization
When William Carey published his Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792) he could not have imagined the dramatic changes globalization would bring to the political, economic, and religious landscape in just over two centuries. In 1792 America was a fledgling country, the steam engine had not yet revolutionized European economies, and Christianity was predominantly a white European religion. To westerners, the rest of the world existed as uncivilized and unconverted heathens. Carey did dream of a day, however, when by the faithful work of missionaries those same heathens might contribute “by their preaching, writings, or practices to the glory of our Redeemer’s name.” Indeed, he envisioned, however dimly, the reality of global Christianity that exists today.
Since Philip Jenkins’ seminal book The Next Christendom (2001) exposed the western world to the incredible new realities of this global Christianity, dozens of other authors have explored Christianity as a truly global faith. Every book wrestles to some degree with the phenomenon of globalization—which is the dynamic process that integrates the world—because “Christianity can be seen as both an agent in and a product of globalization.” One amazing evidence of the global and globalizing nature of Christianity is that the very people William Carey called heathen are now sending missionaries to evangelize the post-Christian West. Mark Noll states in The New Shape of World Christianity that, “More than 10,000 foreign Christian workers are today laboring in Britain, France, Germany and Italy—more than 35,000 in the United States” [emphasis mine]. The great promise of globalization comes through its immediate facilitation of the vision for missions to be from everywhere to everywhere, which prepares for the final fulfillment of the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation 7 that will come on the last day. Today, however, the imperfect anticipation of that vision is possible in our churches as globalization enables the coming together of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. In America, perhaps more than most countries, this vision has the potential to materialize with multi-ethnic churches.
Yet, many local American churches are both unaware and unprepared for the unique opportunity globalization offers for building multi-ethnic churches that prefigure the worship we will experience in heaven. Globalization has introduced at least two interrelated phenomena that hold both promise and peril for the American church. First, globalization introduces a tension between growing cultural-religious pluralism and homogenization. The homogenizing forces of globalization tend to obscure the beauty of ethnic identity. Ironically, it also encourages extreme ethnic identity, which creates a new kind of tribalism. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas L. Friedman explains that the desire to retain one’s identity and traditions motivates this extreme tribalism. This aspect of globalization has the potential to reinforce latent forms of the Homoge- nous Unit Principle (HUP) that still permeate American ecclesial models. Part of the church growth movement, HUP argues that Christianity works best when like reaches like, meaning we should build churches around cultural and ethnic identity. This will either further segregate American churches or obscure the beauty of appropriate ethnic expression.
Second, as part of the increasing pluralism, large contingents of Christian immigrants, with in- digenized forms of Christianity, arrive every day in American cities. These Christians come from pluralistic contexts that force them to ask different questions of the biblical texts. These Christian immigrants have the potential to offer insight to typical western approaches to biblical texts, not by undermining centuries of western theology, but by raising questions that western blind spots ignore. Churches that seek to welcome, understand, and affirm these Christian immigrants will not only understand their Bibles better but also better image the heavenly worship described in Revelation 7.
This article therefore seeks to examine how these two specific aspects of globalization—the tension generated between homogenization and pluralism and the impact of Christian immigrants— create the opportunity for American churches to move toward multiethnic congregations. I proceed by first demonstrating the difficulty of a comprehensive definition for globalization yet still offering a working definition. Second, I identify how these two phenomena of globalization confront the American church by challenging westerners both to learn from indigenized forms of Christianity and to abandon the dominant ecclesial paradigm of the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Finally, I suggest two ways the American church should respond to these perils: first by listening to and learning from a globalization of theology and second by planning, preparing, and building for multi-ethnic churches.
1. Toward a Definition of Globalization
Despite its universal popularity, few concepts today are as controversial or polarizing as global- ization.9 Disagreement about the origins, causes, and results of globalization leads contemporary scholars to arrive at diverse and often contradictory definitions. Definitions can quickly explode into a ‘theory of everything’ because of the complex nature of globalization. In their book Globalization and the Mission of the Church, Neil Ormerod and Shane Clifton declare that, “the complexity of the phenomenon belies simplistic conclusions.” To move toward a definition, then, it is helpful to note what things theorist attempt to describe. “Globalization theory,” Ormerod and Clifton explain, “seeks to describe the nature of society given worldwide social relations, and in this sense globalization can be understood as a heuristic label intended to encapsulate the complex and glob- ally ranging set of experiences, relationships, structures, technologies, institutions and cultural symbols which are determinative for life in a compressed world.” Since globalization is a heuristic label describing almost an infinite number of daily events contributing to a broad number of realities, we cannot expect a simplistic definition. Therefore, we will consider two characteristics of globalization, identify its main paradoxes, and finally suggest a working definition.
First, however, we must consider that the controversy in scholarly debate about whether globalization is inherently good or bad influences any attempt to characterize it. Pro-globalization advocates define it “in terms of its economic and technological structures” identifying it more as “global capitalism.” Critics of this economic and technological globalization define “globalization more as a tool of oppressive violence” against the poor. Scholars further divide over whether the homogenization of culture is good or bad. Amidst the scholarly debate, John Paul II offers sage advice: “...globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself, and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good.” Only in so far as humans use the system of globalization to advance or hinder human flourishing can it be evaluated as good or bad.
From that starting point, two characteristics of globalization emerge. First, globalization means an increasing consciousness that the world is one single place. Tragedies like the 2004 Tsunami, which devastated the coast of 13 Southeastern Asian countries, pulled the world into a shared experience because it also killed tourists from hundreds of countries. In a different way, the World Cup Finals, perhaps even more than the Olympics, demonstrates a shared language of sport through the game of soccer (or fuÌtbol). Through the almost universally accessible modern media, these events created a sense of shared global space. A second characteristic is globalization’s compression of time and space. Jet planes, email, and satellite video represent this globalizing process most prominently. Most definitions highlight these characteristics but it is the paradoxes of globalization that cause the most confusion with the term.
While globalization engenders many paradoxes such as forces of integration (cultural homogenization) with opposing forces of fragmentation (growing ethnic tribalism), perhaps the most significant paradox lies in the interchange between the global and local. Globalization is not merely, as Princeton’s online dictionary simplistically puts it, “growth to a global or worldwide scale.” Rather, there is a two-way street between global and local. Economic, technological, and social inventions invade local cultures and yet the reverse happens when local customs and knowledge are exported to the rest of the world. Glocalization, which is the Japanese term for “global localization,” attempts to express the “multidimensional nature” of globalization. A global corporation like McDonalds serving McBurritos in Mexico is just one example. Yet, the reverse happens through a process called “globalization from below.” For example, several YouTube videos of Tibetan monks throat singing went viral on YouTube, making a unique and rare cultural practice something American teenagers attempt in their bedrooms. Global entities are particularized in local cultures while local particularities are exported globally. Yet, it is important to realize “the face of the global is in the local.” “The local,” Ott and Netland emphasize, “will always have a kind of priority over the global because . . . we are physically embodied creatures, inextricably rooted in particular localities.”
Mark Noll sheds light on this paradox as he describes the indigenizing nature of Christianity. He explains that the missionary aim to translate Scripture into every tongue actually endears each culture to its own local language. “In a word,” Noll says, “today’s Christian situation is marked by multiplicity because of how deeply the Christian message, fully indigenized in local languages, has become part of local cultures.” Christianity, then, is not merely a force for globalization but also perhaps the most significant means for—to borrow Friedman’s term—“healthy glocalization.”
Globalization’s broad characteristics of global consciousness and interconnectedness, along with unique paradoxes such as glocalization and “globalization from below,” introduce the definitional challenge. Yet, the fact that these also represent unifying themes of most definitions is encouraging. In Beyond Christianity: Globalization, African Migrations, and the Transformation of the West, Jehu Hanciles lines up six definitions that each emphasize various aspects of what has been discussed so far. Nevertheless, Hanciles concludes that “globalization embodies a complex reality that is still evolving” and therefore, “there is strong scholarly consensus that much about the potential and possibilities of globalization remains unknown.” This uncertainty about what globalization might mean in the future confirms that, “Globalization is a heuristic label,” meaning the definition changes with our experiences of the phenomenon. Globalization can be defined only in so far as it is observed right now. Therefore, from what others have observed, I offer a working definition as follows: globalization is the social, technological, economic, and political processes that create a smaller world by the compression of time and space, inform a global consciousness of the world as a single place, and produce paradoxical forces such as homogenization and tribalism or glocalization and “globalization from below.” Or, to put it as simply as possible, globalization is the dynamic process that integrates the world.
2. Evaluation of Globalization’s Impact on the American Church
While there are many new realities brought about by globalization, the two we will focus on here are ones that directly confront the American church today. First, there is a growing tension between a new cultural and religious pluralism and the homogenizing tendencies of globalization. This tension challenges the ecclesiology of local American churches, primarily in cities but increasing- ly even in small town America. Second, the massive influx of immigrant Christians—with their indigenized forms of Christianity—presents a unique challenge to the American church. In particu- lar these two new realities of cultural and religious pluralism and large numbers of Christian immi- grants contributes to increasing challenges to Western theology as a whole and in particular to the Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP) as the dominant ecclesiological paradigm in America. Evaluat- ing the impact these new realities are having on Western theology and the HUP as an ecclesiological paradigm will inform the recommendations for how the American church should respond.
The landscape of American demographics has changed dramatically in the last few decades and the pace of change is only increasing. Harvard scholar Diana Eck proclaims in A New Religious America that, “the United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world... Nowhere, even in today’s world of mass migrations, is the sheer range of religious faith as wide as it is in the United States.” In Interpreting Contemporary Christianity, Ogbu Kalu explains that as Westerners “attempt to create a new unity [after Christendom], concentrating on economic dimensions and neglecting religious ones, new immigrants bring various religious traditions that clash violently.” This religious plurality—especially amidst the Western secular worldview—enforces a new kind of tribalism focused on ethnically unified religion. Kalu says further that, “For the immigrants, the exilic or diasporic experience compels people to sharpen their racial identities and legitimate these with religion.” Ironically, the homogenizing influence that globalization has brought about on an economic and superficial cultural level has not overwhelmed ethnic or religious identification. Rather, if anything globalization has enabled those to increase. Hanciles explores how this reli- gious pluralism and extreme tribalism is impacting the American church and concludes that, “[religious plurality] presents unprecedented challenges to the American church in terms of its mission and self-understanding.” The global Christian church, and in particular the American church, faces the challenge of developing beliefs and practices submitted to Scripture yet contextualized to this new religious pluralism and tribalism.
A surprising aspect of this new religious context is how Christian immigrants contribute to a resurgence of Christianity. Hanciles states that, “It is one of the most striking coincidences of contemporary globalization that the decline of the Christian faith in North America has corresponded with a phenomenal influx of Christian migrants.” Christianity’s glocalization into particular cultures has introduced a new dimension to global Christianity, namely, the arrival of immigrants from countries like Kenya in America that are not merely Christian, but a unique brand of Christianity. “Globalization from below” is not only bringing different cultures to American cities it is also bringing different expressions of Christianity now rooted in these cultures. In other words, there are both Muslim and Christian Kenyans arriving in America. Churches, therefore, must not merely seeking to evangelize within the new pluralistic landscape but also seek to welcome, understand, and affirm brothers and sisters in Christ who express their Christian faith quite differently than their American counterparts. As American evangelicals have attempted to do this they have realized that their theologies do not always line up.
Therefore, both the religious plurality and the strong Christian contingent among immigrants challenge the approach to biblical interpretation and practical application of Western theology. These two globalizing forces have awakened some to what Soong-Chan Rah calls the “Western, white cultural captivity” of American evangelicalism. “The American church,” Rah repeats emphatically, “needs to face the inevitable and prepare for the next stage of history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic American Christianity in the immediate future.” The 2010 Census report confirms that “the U.S. population has become more racially and ethnically diverse” with a total of 36% of the population being non-white minority. The minority populations are growly more quickly than the white population, and this will result in the U.S. becoming a “majority-minority” country.
These demographic forces confront the Western philosophies of individualism and consumerism, which Rah declares are the “heartbeat” and “soul” of the Western, white captivity of the church. He bewails how, “The priority of the individual shapes how American evangelicals live out our local church experience, how we study and learn Scripture, how we shape our corporate worship and even how we live and interact in community.” He cites evangelicals common misapplication of Jeremiah 29:11—“for I know the plans I have made for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”—to the individual rather than the cor- porate body. American Christians assume the “you” in the passage is singular whereas in actually it is plural, and therefore we cannot presume the passage merely promises comfort and hope to the individual. How the religious pluralism these minority populations bring and especially the large Christian immigrant populations are effecting Western theology will be explored in the next section, but for now we will examine the impact they are having on the HUP.
Ever since Donald McGavran popularized the church growth movement in the 1970s, the homog- enous unit principle has dominated the ecclesiological paradigm of American evangelical churches. McGavran argued that, “men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.” Thus personal evangelism and churches were built on the principle that like reaches like. Bill Hybels, 30-year pastor of Willow Creek church, explains in an interview with Christianity
Today how this paradigm influenced his ministry: “Willow Creek started in the era when... the church-growth people were saying, ‘Don’t dissipate any of your energies fighting race issues. Focus everything on evangelism.’ It was the homogeneous unit principle of church growth.” After reading Divided by Faith, he lamented the damaging effect this paradigm had on his church, stating openly, “I felt so badly about being a pastor for 25 years and having been as oblivious as I was to these kinds of issues. It was embarrassing. But these days I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
Rah unpacks how this principle has influenced American evangelicalism writ large. He says that “Blindly adhering to the homogenous unit principle, therefore, has resulted in an American evangelicalism incapable of dealing with the reality of growing cultural pluralism and ethnic heterogeneity.” Martin Luther King’s statement in 1963 that, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” continues to be true today. Offering a range of statistics, the authors of the book United by Faith conclude that “for Christian congregations...the percentage that are racially mixed drops to five and a half” and many of these are only mixed temporarily during a time of transition. “The key error,” that created this situation Rah believes, “is that secondary measurements, such as numerical growth, were used as a central value” rather than a biblical value system.
One southern Baptist congregation in Clarkston, Georgia discovered that the forces of globalization threatened the homogeneity they had enjoyed for decades. Jamie Dean recounts in World Magazine how a “massive influx of refugees” into the small town of 7,500 transformed the all white congregation into a place where “black and white Americans squeeze into pews with Africans and Asians from places like Sudan and Burma.” That change did not happen overnight, however. Many white parishioners left the church or moved away, forcing the church leaders to reduce to one worship service and lease space to ethnic groups for their own worship services. Slowly things changed as church members learned how to love these ethnic congregations through youth basketball, ESL classes, and even a computer lab. Eventually the church changed its name from Clarkston Baptist Church to Clarkston International Bible Church and started a multiethnic congregation. Dean concludes the story by describing how “Pastor Kitchin of CIBC relishes the bigger story of many backgrounds in Clarkston, and despite the substantial challenges, he tells other Christians: ‘If you don’t like it here, you won’t like heaven.’”
Though less dramatically, these sorts of changes are happening in other churches as well. At Willow Creek, Hybels says, “It would be very rare for you to come to Willow now and not see cultural diversity intentionally represented on our stage. You didn’t see much for 25 years, but now we’re very intentional about it.” He goes on to say that, “30 years later, as I read this book, I recognize that a true biblically functioning community must include being multiethnic. My heart beats so fast for that vision today. I marvel at how naiÌˆve and pragmatic I was 30 years ago.” This vision for multiethnic churches is a major part of the response Americans can have to the changes ushered in by globalization.
3. How Local American Churches Should Respond
The aim of this section is to suggestion ways American churches should respond in a biblical and practical way to the globalizing forces discussed in this paper. While a complete analysis of the biblical foundations and practical applications of an ecclesiology that accounts for the issues of globalization are beyond the scope of this paper, there are nevertheless two important suggestions to be made. First, the Western church in general, and in particular the American evangelical leadership must recognize the value of pursuing a globalization of theology. Second, local American churches must build the biblical foundation and intentionally pursue a multiethnic ecclesiology. Indeed, leaders in the American church would do well to listen to and learn from a globalization of theology and attempt to plan, practice, and build for multiethnic churches.
3.1. Listen to and Learn from a Globalization of Theology
The globalization of theology directly challenges “Christianity’s overaccomodation to Western culture.” This may sound ominous to many American evangelical pastors and theologians because it can seem that advocates are proposing that centuries of biblical interpretation rooted in church history be excised in favor of whatever is new. On the contrary, a proper globalization of theology attempts to do what every generation of Christian theologians has done, namely articulate the timeless truth of Scripture in a way that is contextualized for the current day. Charles E. Van Engen presents a helpful and balanced depiction of what a globalization of theology means and why it is important:
To view doing theology as the construction of one monolith theology superimposed on all Christians everywhere violates the truth that God’s revelation took place “at many times in various ways” (Heb. 1:1) and has always been received within the categories of specific cultural contexts. On the other hand, the atomization of plurality of local theologies violates the oneness of the church, the unity of the Holy Spirit, the singularity of the gospel and the unity of all Christians who read the same Bible. Thus, neither mono- lithic uniformity nor atomized pluriformity are satisfactory approaches to doing theology in a globalizing world. Therefore, the challenge before us is to find a way to know God in context, that is, to do critical theologizing in a glocal fashion through reading the same Bible in the midst of multiple cultures.
Craig Blomberg from Denver Seminary calls this challenge a “globalization of hermeneutics.” He demonstrates what this process might look like in “The Globalization of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3–4,” explaining the approach “as the process of asking new questions of the text, particularly in light of the experiences of marginalization of a large percentage of the world’s pop- ulation.” While his analysis of how Jesus’ dialogues with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman present “striking inversions of contemporary expectations about their roles,” he nonetheless cautions against an “avant-guard” hermeneutic that ignores the “dominant readings of texts through- out church history.” Craig Ott also clarifies what a proper balance might look like. He says,
Though the theological dominance of the West may continue due to its long theological heritage and its advantage in resources, if it is to serve the global church well, its theology must be globalized in the sense that it surrenders its position of privilege and enters genuine dialogue with theologians from non-Western traditions.
Ultimately, in order for a globalization of theology to happen successfully, and for it to practically impact local churches in America and across the globe, it must move beyond the academic theolo- gian and into the local practice of the church. This process is already happening both organically and intentionally as churches listen and learn from other parts of the global church.
Hanciles explains how non-Western missionaries in the West catalyze the move away from the “territorial and tribal faith” of Western Christianity. This occurs organically through new Christian immigrant congregations in America. Rah recounts his discovery that while Boston’s white evan- gelical congregations were declining in the city, vibrant ethnic immigrant congregations demon- strated great vitality and partnership. Part of their success, Hanciles notes, comes because these immigrant congregations “embody a brand of Christianity that is strongly evangelistic or con- versionist.” And while religious pluralism is a new experience for the vast majority of American Christians—which is part of the challenge for the white evangelical church—these new Christian immigrants “hail from countries where the life of faith is forged in settings marked by daily in- teraction with other major faiths.” The American church has much to learn from these congre- gations. Indeed, they already are taking intentional steps to do so by inviting missionaries from elsewhere to come and teach them. Gelder explains that, “Some European and U.S. churches are purposely calling missionaries from Africa and elsewhere to help revitalize their own community and catalyze fresh encounters with the gospel and culture.” This has led to “a dramatic experience for Westerners [as they] encounter the power of the gospel freed from that Western cultural bag- gage.” This process of globalizing theology—or as Rah calls it, “Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity”—must be accompanied with a vision for the future of the American church. Rah proposes such a vision, stating that, “With the significant demographic changes in the United States and in the American church, freedom from cultural captivity is needed to enter into a new multiethnic phase for the American church.” This is where the great promise of globalization and its perils will be decided. The church could allow the cultural trends of increasing extreme tribalism to dictate its future or it could embrace the opportunity to foreshadow the beauty of Revelation 7 through multiethnic churches.
3.2. Plan, Practice, and Build for Multiethnic Churches
Recently, pastors and theologians have flooded the market with books and blog posts discussing how to think about and build multiethnic churches. This section, therefore, seeks to merely suggest some ‘first steps’ toward understanding and moving toward multiethnic church ministry. Those with experience have warned that this is not easy. Indeed, Jemar Tisby cautions that, “Forming multi-ethnic churches seems to be appealing at first, but unless believers grasp the profound joy of pursuing diversity, the challenges of this type of ministry will quickly deflate them.” Nevertheless, given the globalizing forces changing American society, every pastor—if not every church mem- ber—should consider how to plan, practice, and build for multiethnic churches.
To start planning for multiethnic church ministry it is best to ask a few questions. First, what is a multiethnic church? This question quickly becomes confusing because other terms such as multiracial, multinational, and multicultural seem to be used synonymously. Gary McIntosh, who recently published Being the Church in a Multiethnic Community, argues that multiethnic “reflects most accurately the biblical concept of ‘the peoples’ and it is the most helpful term when speaking about churches that are comprised of different families, clans, or cultural groups.” McIntosh defends Paul Hiebert’s definition, which says that a multiethnic church is “a church in which there is 1) an attitude and practice of accepting people of all ethnic, class and national origins as equal and fully participating members and ministers in the fellowship of the church; and 2) the manifestation of this attitude and practice by the involvement of people from different ethnic, social and national communities as members in the church.”
Second, what are the biblical foundations for multiethnic churches? In Building A Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, Mark DeYmaz argues from three places that Scripture supports multiethnic churches: Christ’s prayer in John 17, Luke’s portrayal of the pattern of ministry at Antioch, and the Pauline mystery in his letter to the Ephesians. Evaluating these passages as well as considering the Jerusalem Counsel’s actions in Acts 15 are important starting points for developing a biblical foundation for multiethnic church ministry. Finally, one should ask, are the neighborhoods around my church (or where I am planting a church) ethnically diverse? Not every church is called to become multiethnic because not every locale has a multiethnic demographic. Yet, we must do the work to determine whether this is true or not. Rah tells how New Life Covenant Church, previously a Puerto Rican church, “conducted demographic studies of Humbolt Park and discovered (contrary to their initial impression)...[that it] was a very ethnically diverse community that included a wide range of Latino communities, African and African Americans, as well as Anglo and Asian neighbors.” Given the rapid demographic changes happening in America, an important place to start is a simple evaluation of the population in your church’s neighborhood.
Yet, even as one begins to plan for multiethnic church ministry, there are several practices that every church can implement before becoming a multiethnic church. First, practice the discipline of personal ministry rather than individual consumption. According to 1 Peter 2:9-10, every church member is a minister. This mentality is essential for multiethnic churches because consumerism— treating church as a product tailored to one’s wants—will blunt attempts to build relationships cross-culturally. Second, practice the discipline of appreciating not merely tolerating other cultures. Toleration allows co-existence, but appreciation requires knowledge and experience. DeYmaz en- courages his congregation to “develop cross-cultural relationships” and Rah even recommends finding a spiritual mentor from another ethnicity.[65 ] Finally, practice the discipline of discerning what is primary and what is preference. Evaluating the style, practices, and values of other culture’s worship is an important first step to understanding what is essential and what is opinion. Tisby says that, “Churches that do this well begin to hone in on the essential truths of the gospel and commu- nicate them more clearly while at the same time demonstrating flexibility and wisdom regarding culturally conditioned opinions about worship.” These practices have value at any kind of church but are important first steps in preparing to build a multiethnic church.
To build a multiethnic church requires a diversity of leadership that reflects the diversity of the congregation. While there are many other important commitments for building a multiethnic church, without a commitment to an ethnically diverse leadership the church will not succeed. DeYmaz argues that Luke mentions the diverse leadership at Antioch to “serve as a model for en- listing diverse leadership within a local church setting” (Acts 11:19–25 and 13:1). One of the major conclusions of Rah’s book is that “The next evangelicalism will require that white Christians be willing to submit to the authority and leadership of a nonwhite Christian.” Building a multiethnic leadership team can be difficult, whether you are adding staff or church planting, because finding an ethnically diverse group of individuals with godly character, theological agreement, and a shared vision for ministry is rare. DeYmaz recognizes that navigating to a “middle ground between quota and wishful thinking” requires vision and intense intentionality. In their book Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez provide a helpful handbook for navigating the difficult challenge of multiethnic church leadership. An effective leadership team that reflects the ethnicity of the congregation will do more than anything to successfully build a multiethnic church.
Soong-Chan Rah relates the story of pastor David Anderson and his small, all white congregation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pastor Anderson desired to be more multicultural but in the all white community, this did not seem possible. Yet, only a few years later Hurricane Katrina swept through the countryside and the small town saw many African American strangers resettle in the town. Before long the church saw “approximately one hundred new black strangers attending every week.” Rah asks: “Would your church be ready for this kind of change?” In other words, even if you are in a small town in America the story of Clarkson, GA or Baton Rouge, LA may come true and your church needs to be prepared theologically for such an event. Other small to mid-town churches are already seeing incremental changes as immigrants spread through the country looking for manual labor, factory, or service type jobs. Jemar Tisby’s article on The Gospel Coalition blog I think rightly concludes that “Multi-ethnic churches excite God’s people because they truly reflect God’s people.”
1 William Carey, Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792), William Carey Center. [Cited 30 April. 2013] Online: http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/enquiry/anenquiry.pdf. Also see Travis Myers’s “Tracing A Theology of the Kingdom of God in William Carey’s Enquiry,” Missiology: Jan. 2012 [cited 30 April. 2013]. Online: http://mis.sagepub.com/content/40/1/37.full.pdf. I am thankful for Myers’s article pointing me to this language in Carey’s publication.
2 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Craig Ott and Harold A Netland, Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006); Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2008); Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Ogbu Kalu and Alaine M Low, Interpreting Contempo- rary Christianity: Global Processes and Local Identities (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008); Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009); Mark A Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009).
3 Craig Ott and Harold A Netland, Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 24.
4 Mark A Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2009), 10.
5 Although this article focuses primarily on how globalization is uniquely challenging the American church, the principles on how to plan, practice, and build for multiethnic churches discussed in section three of the article could apply to any region experiencing the impacts of globalization.
6 Miriam Adeney notes in her article Is God Colorblind or Colorful that, “ethnicity counters” this “dehumanizing bent of globalization.” (Ralph D Winter et al., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009, 418).
7 In a 1995 interview on PBS, Neil Postman foresaw this phenomenon and identified it as an outcome of globalization. He states in the interview, “[A]ll over the world, we see a kind of reversion to tribalism. . . . We see it in Russia, in Yugoslavia, in Canada, in the United States. . . . What is it about all this globalization of communication that is making people return to more—to smaller units of identity?” Charlayne Hunter-Gault, “Visions of Cyberspace,” PBS Online Forum, 25 July 1995. [cited 25 April. 2013]. Online: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/cyberspace/cyberspace_7-25.html.
8 Thomas L Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Picador, 2012), 280–82 and 320–29. Ironically, this extreme tribalism reacts to the homogenizing forces of globalization while at the same time employing the very tools offered by globalization to build a 21st century tribalism. The title of Benjamin Barber’s book Jihad vs. McWorld best captures the conflict between homogenization and extreme tribalism (by “Jihad” Barber does not merely refer to Islamic fanaticism or holy war but more generally to religion and nationalism). Thus, globalization threatens to obliterate ethnic cultural distinctives while simultaneously enabling extreme tribalism at the margins (Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld,How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World, 1996 publication, Ballantinr Books,1996, 1996).
9 Ott and Netland, Globalizing Theology, 18.